Lake Helen’s mayoral election will whittle a field of three down to two with an Aug. 17 primary, unless one of the three gets more than 50 percent of the votes cast. If needed, a general election will be held Nov. 2 for the seat of mayor. Either way, on Nov. 2, voters will choose a city commissioner for Zone 1 — incumbent Kelly Frasca will face Heather Rutledge, a first-time candidate.
All registered voters who live in Lake Helen can cast ballots.
The three mayoral candidates should be familiar faces for Lake Helen residents — two are former commissioners, and one is the former deputy city clerk.
The perpetual Lake Helen concern — and one that has gained urgency in recent years — is how to retain small-town charm and the Lake Helen way of life while managing the inevitable growth. Lake Helen has roughly 2,760 residents, but is surrounded by booming development in neighboring cities.
Two meet-the-candidate events took place in the past few weeks: the League of Women Voters held a panel discussion July 29, and the Lake Helen League of Better Living hosted a Q&A event Aug. 3.
Here are some of the highlights.
Cameron Lane (Zone 4 commissioner, 2008-14)
Former City Commissioner Cameron Lane is a longtime Lake Helen resident with deep roots in the city. A fourth-generation Lake Helenite, Lane is related to Buddy Snowden, the former mayor of the city, and spent six years as commissioner in Zone 4 until a 2014 loss to Tura Schnebly, who served one term.
Lane put the reason for his failed bid squarely on the shoulders of the Creative Arts Cafe, which he said he was instrumental in closing.
“Politics, like making sausage, is not something you want to watch,” Lane said. “I was instrumental in closing down the city-run restaurant. The city was bleeding money. … I spent a lot of political capital in shutting that down, which was very unpopular, and I paid the price for that.”
Since then, Lane said, he’s fully retired and ready to get back to giving back to Lake Helen.
Lane’s experience includes his six years on the commission, as well as more than 25 years on a large Port Orange HOA board that governed more than 1,400 homes.
“You end up in a cycle that never ends,” Lane said of cities chasing growth. “Lake Helen has avoided that cycle, historically. We have development, but it’s … at a sustainable pace, that maintains our city character.”
“One of the least sexy chants … What do we want? Steady incremental improvement. When do we want it? In due course,” Lane said to laughter in his closing statement. “It’s not sexy or exciting, but it’s what works.”
Lane has raised $2,300 and spent $1,349.
Lauren Olsen (city staff, 2018-21)
Lauren Olsen resigned as deputy city clerk in 2021. City Hall staff had gone through several tumultuous events, including the departure of City Administrator Becky Witte, and the hiring of Lake Helen’s current city administrator, Lee Evett.
Olsen’s departure was clearly on the minds of some attendants, who submitted questions on the reasons she left, as well as her capacity to work with an administrator she had previously accused of “endless negativity.”
“One of the main reasons I left is I was out with COVID and when I got my negative test, but still had a cough, it was requested of me to stay home and work remotely for perception,” Olsen said. “Which I agreed to — until I received my first paycheck that showed that some of my sick leave had been taken.”
Olsen also said that, at the time, City Hall was struggling with negativity. When asked if she could work with leadership, Olsen responded, “I absolutely could, I feel like with proper leadership, with a commission that works together, not against each other, I feel like it would be a synergy. I don’t feel like at this point in time the administration has perfect leadership.”
Olsen’s vision for Lake Helen’s future includes the idea of a kind of mini-Downtown DeLand, with Lake Helen’s main strips transformed into two-story buildings with room for local businesses at the bottom, and apartments on top.
“[I see] a walkable area, small shops on the bottom, apartment-living on top,” Olsen said. “You can start at one end, have your appetizer, have your meal, have your dessert, and then you can leave.”
Olsen’s campaign promises to “polish The Gem,” a reference to Lake Helen’s nickname of “The Gem of Florida.” She made several references to ending divisiveness, and joining together as a community.
“I am running to solve the problems I saw firsthand,” Olsen told the audience.
Olsen has raised $1,600 and spent $943.
Vernon Burton (Zone 2 commissioner, 2008-20)
This will be the third time Vernon Burton has run for mayor, but, as he declined to run last year for Zone 2, the first where he did not have to resign his seat.
Because Lake Helen has staggered elections (elections for Zones 1 and 3 and the mayoral seat are held in odd-numbered years, and Zones 2 and 4 in even-numbered years), Burton previously had to resign his seat to run. In each prior instance, in 2015 and 2019, Burton was reappointed as Zone 2 commissioner after the election, albeit not always smoothly.
With 12 years’ experience on the City Commission, and even more on various boards, Burton says he brings deep institutional knowledge and historical context regarding the decisions the city has made.
One of his enduring accomplishments, Burton said, was raising the awareness of Melissa Park and helping spearhead much-needed improvements for the park, which once had no septic system or working bathrooms.
When it comes to “smart growth,” Burton said, he’s pretty sure he came up with the phrase.
“I’m going to take credit for that phrase,” Burton said to laughter. After a quick history lesson, Burton mentioned the existing open areas in the city that can be better utilized for “low impact, with a high return.”
“I didn’t have to prepare any notes because everything I’ve done and everything I’ve put into this city has come from here and here,” Burton said, gesturing to his head and his heart.
He pointed out a quilt hanging in the historic Hopkins Hall, where the Lake Helen League of Better Living event took place — three of the panels were stitched by his mother, whom Burton credits with teaching him one of his guiding principles.
“To whom much has been given, much is required,” Burton said. “I have roots in this town, I’m going to be buried in this town. If I’m not on this board, or any other board — I never need to be on a board to serve this town.”
Burton has raised $2,365 and spent $1,349.